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2020 NBA Draft Profiles: Yves Pons

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The 2019-2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year offers plenty of promise as a defender and athlete.

Tennessee v Kansas Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

YVES PONS: GUARD/FORWARD, UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE

  • 2019-2020 Season: 31 Games Played, 33.9 Minutes Per Game, 10.8 Points, 5.4 Rebounds, 1.1 Assists, 2.4 Blocks Per Game while Shooting 48.9% from the field and 34.9% from three
  • During the 2019-2020, Pons became just the fifth collegiate guard to produce 300 or more points and 70 or more blocks in a single season
  • ACCOLADES: 2019-2020 SEC All Defensive Team, 2019-2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year
  • Projected Strengths: Elite Athlete and Finisher at the Rim, Position Versatility, Above Average Defensive Potential
  • Projected Weaknesses: Still Very Raw, More of a Project than Producer, Limited Offensive Upside as Shot Creator and Playmaker
  • Current Big Board Rankings: 89th (CBS Sports)

One of best athletes in all of college basketball over the past few years, Yves Pons was on the radar of many college and pro scouts once he arrived on campus at the University of Tennessee. However, during his first two seasons with the Vols, Pons struggled and fell of many draft radars as a result. Fortunately, once Pons stepped into a much bigger role with the Volunteers last season, many aspects of his game improved immensely, and the intrigue of what he could be at the pro level returned. Though Pons is still very much more of a project than finished product, there is noticeable upside in his game, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

STRENGTHS

ATHLETE.

One thing Yves Pons does very well is be an athlete. He also likes to defend, and defend well.

However, his favorite hobby on the court is distributing souvenirs in the stands on a regular basis...

The biggest asset that Pons offers is an elite athletic profile. At 6’6” and 215 pounds, it is very likely Pons will be the most athletic player on the court any time he plays. Not only does he offer impressive leaping ability and can effectively run the floor, Pons also has very good core strength and knows how to use it to his advantage. These characteristics aided Pons in becoming one of the most versatile defenders in the NCAA last season.

While Pons is certainly still raw, he knows how to feature his strengths on defense. Due to his effective footwork, natural strength and leaping ability, and instincts, Pons offers the legitimate ability to guard any position on the court. On the perimeter, Pons can make life uncomfortable for smaller guards and wings to efficiently move and gain position for good looks at the basket. As seen above against 2019-2020 SEC Player of the Year Immanuel Quickley, Pons can stay in front of talented, athletic scorers, whether they are driving to the basket or looking for a jump shot. Pons can also offer quickness and effective leaping ability in the post that will disrupt the offensive flow of bigger post players.

However, while Pons certainly has developed the fundamentals to be a good overall defender, what could make him special at the NBA level is his rare yet elite shot-blocking ability. Since 1992, Pons is one of only two NCAA guards who have played 1,000 or more minutes in a season and produced a block percentage of 7.5% or better. The other is Matisse Thybulle, one of the most accomplished defensive players in NCAA history. Though Pons may not be as good of an all-around defender as Thybulle, this statistical measure shows that Pons has the rare ability to be an effective shot blocker anywhere on the court.

Offensively, Pons is an ideal target to finish plays on the run and at the rim on lobs and put backs. He finishes with authority, knows how to create space to receive passes near the rim, and can out jump nearly any other player on the court. Pons can also be a reliable front court option in small-ball lineups, and move effectively between the perimeter and the post in motion sets. Furthermore, Pons can work effectively without the ball, setting effective screens for his teammates, causing chaos with movement on the baseline, or intelligently moving the ball to help offensive efficiency.

WEAKNESSES

Tennessee v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

While Pons does have a lot of natural abilities, he still is far from a finished product. Nearly two to three years older than many other prospects, Pons has his clear limitations, especially on offense. While he has done well with what he has, there is a good chance his ceiling in the NBA is that of a reliable reserve.

Though Pons can be effective without the ball, the fact that he is typically more effective without it than with it is a concern. While Pons can get open for catch and shoot jump shots or opportunities near the rim, he is not effective at creating his own shot or setting others up for good looks. His below average ball handling and play making skills impact his ability to be involved with set plays, especially in a half-court offense. Though he can be effective on the run, Pons will likely have limited usage and could be a non-factor at times early in his career on offense.

While Pons did improve as a scorer last season, he still needs plenty of development in that area. He needs a good amount of time to correctly execute his shot for it to have a good chance of going in the basket, and also needs a lot of development in creating space off the dribble. As mentioned above, with his game still based more off instinct and natural ability at this point, Pons may have to rely on others to create opportunities for him on offense.

With as much potential has he has shown on defense, it is surprising that Pons was never a big threat stealing the ball. In general, Pons only averaged 0.6 steals per 40 minutes when he was on the court on defense. Furthermore, he only averaged 1.4 assists per 40 minutes on offense. This suggests a limited ability to anticipate what the opposition will do, and makes it to where much of Pons’s game is based off being reactive instead of proactive. While Pons’ natural athletic ability does allow for him to be effective at times when reacting and he can become more proactive in time, he will need plenty of improvement to overcome his expected ceiling in the NBA.

At this point, Pons’ game still needs a lot of refinement and discipline. Prone to turnovers and still a work in progress within the structure of team defensive designs, it his highly unlikely Pons will be ready to step into a significant role in his first few seasons in the NBA.

WHERE HE FITS IN THE NBA AND WITH THE GRIZZLIES

Despite his weaknesses and potential limited upside, one very encouraging sign from Pons’ junior season was the across the board improvement in his quality of play even as he took on a much bigger role as a starter:

His scoring ability improved immensely while both his propensity to commit fouls and turnovers decreased. This shows that Pons does possess the ability to improve over time, and that he can become a reliable option once he has received plenty of tutelage within the right system. Pons’ ceiling as a player most likely depends on how he continues to develop as a contributor without the ball in his hands, especially on defense. As a result, the most likely outcome for Pons’ future is that of an athletic finisher and reliable defender off the bench. His ability to defend multiple positions and to impact the game on the run certainly makes him an intriguing second round prospect.

With the NBA game being less structured and more on the run as second units take the floor, Pons could fit in quite nicely in the right system, especially a system that has shown the ability to develop talent effectively. This is why Memphis could be an ideal landing spot for Pons. With talents such as Josh Jackson, Marko Guduric, and Kyle Anderson potentially on their way out over the next year, the Grizzlies will have a need for size and athleticism on the perimeter in the ranks of their reserves. The Grizzlies front office has also shown an interest in athletic prospects who have good defensive upside. As a result, with the need to fill the bench with intriguing prospects in the near future, Pons could easily be a target for Memphis in the second round of the 2020 draft (or in 2021 if he decides to stay in school.)